Everything is on the table including free jabs for all as health authorities figure out how to get more Queenslanders immunised against the flu.
Health Minister Shannon Fentiman says providing jabs free of charge again is a possibility amid rising influenza cases and vaccination fatigue following the COVID-19 pandemic.
Influenza B has become the state’s dominant strain this winter and is a particular danger to children, fuelling concerns about the low rate of vaccinations among under-fives.
Ms Fentiman’s meeting to adress the issue this week with Chief Health Officer John Gerrard followed the flu-related deaths of an 11-year-old girl on the Sunshine Coast and a year 9 student on the NSW Central Coast.
“I have requested the chief health officer and the department to put together all options about how we can get the message out there to families that they need to get the flu vaccine,” Ms Fentiman told reporters on Friday.
“Really, the message is not getting through and there is a level of vaccine fatigue. So we’re going to redouble our efforts.”
The government has faced questions about making vaccines free again with cases set to peak in the coming weeks, and after making them free for Queenslanders aged over six months until June 30 last year.
At present, they’re free of charge for certain groups including children five and under, and adults over 65
While Western Australia offered universal free vaccines during May, other states and territories are simiarly providing them only for at-risk groups.
Ms Fentiman acknowleged the $20 per jab cost was a barrier for some families and said while providing more free vaccines is among the options being considered, “clearly even where the vaccines are free, we’re not seeing people take it up”.
“So I want to talk with the education minister, our schools, our early childhood centres … how do we get the message out that people need to be vaccinated?”
She said only 18 per cent of children under five had been vaccinated, including just one of the 78 aged six months to four years who were in hospital with the flu this month.
Health experts have raised the alarm about this year’s flu season, with AMA Queensland warning of increasing GP visits and hospital admissions and president Maria Boulton bracing for a “very significant” outbreak.
Flu vaccinations are down across the country, with 8.5 million people immunised between March 1 and July 9 compared with 10.4 million in the same period in 2022, according to the Australian Immunisation Register.
Queensland has recorded 47,300 influenza cases this year, with 3814 hospital admissions in the last reporting week.